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Ben Silverman leaving NBC for new venture

Ben Silverman will be leaving his job as co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Movie Studios to head a new venture with Barry Diller's IAC/InterActiveCorp focusing on producing and distributing multimedia content.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ben Silverman has left NBC after two years as entertainment chief of the hit-starved network and is heading back to the content-producing role where he once found success.

He is starting a new company with an initial investment from media mogul Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp, and already has a consultancy deal in place with NBC.

( is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC.)

NBC had hoped Silverman could bring the magic touch he had with his Reveille production studio to turn around the fourth-pace network. Silverman had specialized in remaking overseas TV shows for American audiences, and was the force behind NBC’s “The Office” and “The Biggest Loser,” and ABC’s “Ugly Betty.”

Yet in two years marred by a writers’ strike and a cratering economy, Silverman wasn’t a game-changer at NBC. His legacy is likely to be more about striking deals with advertisers than improving NBC’s competitive position. Only the Amy Poehler midseason comedy “Parks & Recreation” and the drama “Southland” bear his stamp, and neither can be considered hits.

Flops included the biblical drama “Kings” and the comedy “Kath and Kim.”

“To me, the shining example of someone’s track record is the track record of the programming they shepherded,” Shari Ann Brill, analyst for the ad agency Carat USA, said.

Silverman took over at the end of the 2006-07 television season, when NBC averaged 8.9 million viewers in prime-time. Its average was 7.9 million this season, according to Nielsen Media Research. While not budging from fourth place, NBC did manage to hold steady this season among 18-to-49-year-old viewers, which is the demographic it seeks, and is having a strong summer.

The parent NBC Universal is elevating executive Jeff Gaspin to the role of chairman of NBC Universal television entertainment. Gaspin had previously overseen the company’s stable of entertainment cable networks such as USA, Bravo, SyFy and Oxygen. Now he’s adding NBC.

‘From Twitter to television’Silverman ran NBC entertainment and the company’s television studio with Marc Graboff. Graboff now has that job alone. NBC had reshuffled the top two programming executives under those men late last year to add Angela Bromstad and Paul Telegdy; Gaspin said no further changes were planned.

Silverman did provide some colorful copy during his tenure, particularly while feuding with ABC entertainment chief Steve McPherson. Silverman called McPherson “a moron” and McPherson said Silverman was either “clueless or stupid.”

Silverman said his new company will help develop content across several mediums, “from Twitter to television.”

“My career has been leading up to this moment,” he said Monday.

He will seek to bring advertisers further into the development process than has been common in TV, something he sought to do at NBC. Ford, for example, was a force behind NBC’s failed “Knight Rider” series. At Silverman’s urging, NBC moved away from its traditional springtime schedule unveiling before a large industry audience to emphasize smaller meetings with advertisers.

Under Silverman, NBC also consolidated operation of the network and its production studio.

“Ben allowed NBC to make some structural changes that were really important that other executives might have dug their heels on,” Gaspin said. “I applaud Ben for what he did. We all wish NBC had more hits. Frankly, two years is a short amount of time with a strike in the middle to expect that.”

Silverman’s NBC record is still open, given this fall’s experiment with a prime-time Jay Leno hour five nights a week. “Whether successful or not, it is a seminal shift,” said John Rash, analyst for the ad agency Campbell Mithune.

General Electric Co. has 80 percent ownership of NBC Universal, with French media and telecommunications company Vivendi SA controlling 20 percent.